June 24, 2012
Technically, the Washington Nationals won their game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, but it was almost entirely Stephen Strasburg's own doing. By the time my friend Dave Givens and I had settled into our seats in the bottom of the first inning, the Nats had already taken a 2-0 lead, thanks to a double by Steve Lombardozzi, an RBI single by Bryce Harper, and an unearned run due to a weird throwing error by the shortstop Elliot Johnson. The overeager Harper reached third safely, and then trotted home after the stray ball dribbled into the dugout. After the next two batters were out, Ian Desmond hit a single to left field that just eluded the grasp of the third baseman, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to score.
And after that very auspicious start, not a single Nationals player got a hit for the rest of the game! In his very first start as a major league pitcher, Chris Archer went for six full innings with only one earned run, while striking out seven batters, and still lost the game. What a letdown that must have been for him. Washington's Stephen Strasburg also had a superb outing, [striking out ten batters and] giving up just two earned runs over seven full innings: a solo homer by Jose Molina in the second inning, and an RBI single by aging veteran Hideki Matsui in the third. Sean Burnett came in as relief pitcher in the eighth inning, and Tyler Clippard got credit for saving the game, both of which were flawless performances. From a fan's perspective, it was a rather dull contest and not exactly inspiring, but a win's a win! Final score: Nats 3, Rays 2. See MLB.com.
FOOTNOTE: I could not believe it when the Rays' Joel Peralta, who had been ejected the day before because he was using pine tar, came in as a relief pitcher in the eighth inning. As I later learned, he was allowed to pitch because the Rays appealed that ruling. I immediately yelled "check his glove!" and pretty soon I heard people in other sections chanting the same thing.
Since it was so hot that day (high temperature of 98°, I believe, with a heat index well over 100°), I wanted to make sure we would be sitting in the shade. I went over to check the lower deck seats in right field, and they are indeed well shaded, but the late afternoon sun exposes most of those seats to intense solar rays. Another reason for sitting there would be to wait for a Bryce Harper home run ball. Those seats would be suitable for an early-afternoon game, but not otherwise.
In Thursday's rubber match game, the Nationals won, 5-2, thanks mainly to Danny Espinosa, who hit two doubles, one of which drove in two runs, and the other enabled him to score. So, in a heartening turn of events after getting swept by the Yankees, the Nationals took that series, two games to one. [Thus, the Nationals built their lead in the NL East to 3 1/2 games over the second-place New York Mets.]
Based on further first-hand scrutiny, I have updated the National Park diagram. For the first time, I have included the "balconies" that protrude from the rear of the "Gallery" level, which is the front part of the upper deck. There is a small three-row set of steel risers in most of those balconies, closing the gap between the upper and lower parts of the upper deck, and that is where we sat: Section 308, Row K. Since those risers are temporary, however, I did not include them in the diagram. I also rendered the stadium lights more precisely than before; they are grouped in distinct sections, not continuous. Finally, I noticed that the multi-level "press box" [a.k.a. Shirley Povich Media Center] in the upper deck behind home plate is positioned askew, with most of it being on the third base side. I should have noticed that before. There are a few other minor changes as well. For the time being, I have left the lower-deck and alternative versions the way they were for the time being to let you see exactly what changed. NOTE: There are now so many photos on that page that I have put them in separate sections that open or close by clicking on the respective heading.
On Friday, the Nationals headed up to Baltimore to begin a ten-game road trip, and the Orioles were ready for them. On both Friday and Sunday, they beat the Nats by a score of 2-1, while in Saturday night's game -- broadcast by FOX -- the Nats won, 3-1. (That gave the Nationals a 2-2 record in games televised outside their immediate region this season.) Obviously, the latest installment of the "Battle of the Beltways" was a pretty even matchup.
In today's rubber game of the series, Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI single in the third inning, a rare accomplishment for him lately. With the help of a solid outing by Ross Detwiler, retaking his place in the pitching rotation from Chien-Ming Wang, the Nats clung to a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning. They had opportunities to score more runs, but the team's core sluggers just couldn't synchronize with each other. In the first, third, sixth, and eighth inning, either Zimmerman or Bryce Harper reached base on hits, but the other guy either struck out or was put out. And so, when the usually-reliable Sean Burnett came in as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the eighth, there wasn't much room for error. Uncharacteristically, he gave up a single to Adam Jones and then Matt Wieters hit a home run, which gave the O's a 2-1 lead. Groan... After Burnett allowed another base runner on a walk, Ryan Mattheus came in to finish the inning on the mound. In the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond reached first base on a walk with one out, but then was thrown out trying to steal second base as Danny Espinosa struck out, thereby ending the game.
And so, just like the Beltway series in Washington last month, the Orioles won two of three games, without having scored more total runs. For the six interleague games this year, the Nats (who won two games) scored 20 runs total, while the Orioles (who won four games) scored 16 runs.